Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Being Uppity

So here's a weird thing about Kelly Barnhill: little old men totally dig me.  I can't explain it, but I know it's true. I've always been very, very popular with old dudes. I think maybe I remind them of their favorite granddaughters, or the girl they wanted to marry. I've often been told that I'm "perfect daughter-in-law material" (though, strangely, not by my own father-in-law, who I'm pretty sure feels otherwise, but never mind).

Now, for the past few years, I've been a teaching artist with a local arts organization that sends musicians, visual artists and writers into the schools for week-long intensive residencies. It's a pretty cool job and I enjoy doing it. When they send me to the tiny towns in outstate Minnesota, I make it my habit to have dinner each night in the local bar, where I'll sit, munch on french fries, talk to locals and write in my notebooks. Invariably, I'll end up with about a half a dozen or so old dudes at my table, their collective breath laced with whiskey and cigarettes and cheap beer, swapping story after story after story.

And they all say the same things to me (always accompanied by the classic Minnesotan "arencha", one of my favorite idioms):

"Yer a sassy one, arencha?" they say.
"Yer a spunky one, arencha?" they confide.
"Oh, yer a pistol, arencha?" they whisper with a knowing smile.

"Um," says I. "I guess so."

Once, a guy said to me, "I've never much cared for uppity girls, even when I was a young thing. But you're all right."

And I said, "Uppity?"

And then I thought about it for a while, and I decided that "uppity" was the best compliment I've ever gotten. I think that a certain amount of uppityness is required for the writing life (probably all sorts of other kinds of life as well - politics, law, corporate espionage, and what have you. But writing is what I know.). We need to be uppity.

It is an uppity notion for me to assert that the story in my head is one worth telling. It is an uppity notion for me to want you to read it. It is an uppity notion for me to want to put my book in the hands of readers, on the shelves of libraries, on the tables of bookstores, in the musings of blog posts and reviewer columns. Writing books is uppity, so I'll embrace it, and I won't apologize.

So, here's my question for the rest of you: After spending our formative years being praised for adhering to specific norms and admonished when we abandoned them, what sorts of personal negatives turned into positives for the rest of y'all? At what point did the world's admonishments become points of your own personal pride?

I'm sure there's a few.

Now don't even let me get started on sassy.


Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian said...

Stubborn, thank-you very much!

Leslie Rose said...

Loved this post! "Artistic" meaning: spacey and out there, is my fav.

kellybarnhill said...

Ha! I was called stubborn too! And my teachers called me "artistic" in front of my parents at conferences and "space-cadet" when they were not around ;-)

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